Breed of the Month ~ January 2015 ~ St. Bernard
 Congratulations to Mike and Beth McCarthy and Alison Barrett

The Saint Bernard breed began at the monastery and hospice founded by Bernard de Menthon, an Augustine monk, in the mid-eleventh century. This was located in the only pass through the Alps between Italy and Switzerland. It was very dangerous for foot travelers. Being caught in that difficult terrain during unexpected storms was often fatal.

No written records about the hospice dogs during the first 700 years have been found. The earliest known depiction of the breed was two paintings attributed to the Italian artist Salvatore Rosa, done in 1695.

Each painting shows a well-built shorthaired dog with a very identifiable head, a long tail, and dewclaws. Experts concluded that these paintings show a breed that had been in existence for approximately 25 years.

Thus, the most accepted estimate is that the breed originated sometime between 1660 and 1670. The dogs came from the Swiss valleys near the hospice, and were likely descendants of the mastiff style Asiatic dogs that were first brought there by the Roman armies.


It seems that the unique lifesaving work of the dogs began about the year 1700. Before that, it is assumed that these dogs served as watchdogs and companions to the monks. It appears that the dogs accompanied the monks on mountain patrols, seeking unwary missing or trapped travelers. The dogs had an uncanny sense to detect impending avalanches. Somehow the dogs learned rescue techniques from the monks. Eventually male dogs were sent in unaccompanied packs of two or three to seek lost or injured pilgrims. Often the dogs had to find people buried in the snow, dig through the overlaying snow, rouse the traveler and lie atop the wayfarer to provide warmth if the traveler was unable to move. Meanwhile, the other dog would return to the hospice to alert the monks that they needed to rescue a trapped pilgrim. Travelers who could still walk would be led back to the hospice by the dogs. The instinct to dig to people buried beneath snow and to rouse those lying in snow is still evident in the breed today.

Because many dogs perished during the more severe winters, the monks tried breeding to longhaired breeds beginning in 1830, reasoning that the long hair would better protect the Saint Bernard against the cold. For the most part, this idea did not bring the results expected. Ice formed on the long hair, and the weight of accumulated ice and snow very quickly incapacitated the dogs. Consequently, they could not use longhaired dogs for rescue work. Soon the monks returned to almost exclusive use of shorthaired dogs for mountain work and began to give away all longhaired puppies. The Swiss recipients of these puppies used them for breeding with their own dogs, resulting in litters containing both longhaired (rough) and shorthaired (smooth) puppies - which continues today.

By the way, they never did wear the ever-popular kegs on their collars. This was added in a painting by a popular English artist, Sir Edward Landseer, and caught the public's fancy. The dogs would sometimes carry supplies on a backpack, such as blankets, medical supplies, or hot drinks.

Today, the Saint is a loving family dog who wants to be with his people. They are quiet natured once they grow out of the puppy energy; always ready for a good hike, but happy to lie quietly while you read or relax. They get along well with other pets, and typically love children best. This is the breed we love!

Rosie visiting a patient at Children's

Rosie greeting the Avalanche bus as it arrives at Children's

A moment with the Avalanche mascot "Bernie"


Puppies . . Puppies . . Puppies

Beadle/Bart 4 weeks

4-week boys Daphne/Vinnie


This is how we do it . . .
To check out who & what breed is up next, please check your e-mail for the 2014/2015 Breed of the Month List. This list is also published on the Membership page. If you are a PCKC member and have a particular breed and you are not listed, don't fret, just contact the person/persons that are listed and work together to provide Carol (the PCKC Webmaster) with information.

The Breed of the Month is selected to highlight breeds, by their owner/breeder, with information on the breed's history, characteristics, accomplishments, honors or titles, family stories and pictures. If you need any assistance with layout, content or format, please contact our Webmaster at anytime. This information will also be available in the PCKC Monthly Newsletter.




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